Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The 2003 Reformed Episcopal Communion Office Revisited: A Reevaluation—Part 3

By Robin G. Jordan

This is the third article in a series on the 2003 Reformed Episcopal Communion Office. Parts 1 and 2 may be found here and here.

The Offertory

In this article I take a fresh look at the offertory in the 2003 Reformed Episcopal Prayer Book. I will be tackling the two forms for the celebration of the Holy Communion in separate articles. The offertory serves as an ancillary rite to the Liturgy of the Table as the entrance rite serves as an ancillary rite to the Liturgy of the Word. In the 2003 Reformed Episcopal Prayer Book the Liturgy of the Table includes the Intercession (i.e., the Prayer for the Whole State of Christ’s Church) and the Preparation (i.e., the Invitation to Confession, the General Confession, the Absolution, and the Comfortable Words) as well as the Consecration, the Communion of the Priest and People and the Thanksgiving.

In the 2003 Reformed Episcopal Communion Office the rubric immediately preceding the offertory is adapted from the 1928 Communion Office as are the selection of offertory sentences. While their order is different, the rubrics that follow the offertory sentences appear to have been largely adapted from the 1928 Communion Office.

Unlike the 1928 rubrics, these rubrics do not direct the priest to offer the bread and wine before placing it on the Table. They make no provision for the Lesser Oblation and none appears to be intended. In this regard the 2003 Reformed Episcopal Communion Office displays an affinity both with the 1662 Communion Office and the 1789 and 1892 Communion Offices. This is another check in the plus column for the 2003 Reformed Episcopal Communion Office.

The last rubric is peculiar to the 2003 Reformed Episcopal Communion Office. The singing of a Doxology at the conclusion of the offertory in Anglican and Episcopal churches is a hangover from the nineteenth century. The rubrics of the 1892 Communion Office permitted the singing of a presentation hymn at that point in the service. This rubric was omitted from the 1928 and 1979 Communion Offices and with its omission permission to sing a presentation hymn or sentence was withdrawn. Their rubrics make provision for the singing of a hymn or anthem at the offertory.

Lionel Dakker in Choosing and Using Hymns identifies it as a purely American practice. He became acquainted with it on a visit to the United States. It was unknown in England.

The practice is not confined to Anglican and Episcopal churches in the United States. The Doxology is also sung when the collection is presented in other Protestant churches—Baptist, Congregationalist, Methodist, and Presbyterian. I have not been able to determine whether the practice migrated from the Episcopal Church to these denominations or the other way around. The practice appears to have fallen into desuetude in churches that use contemporary Christian and praise and worship songs in their worship.

Howard Galley, Marion Hackett, Byron Stuhlman, and others discourage the practice. They argue that it adds to the clutter that the offertory, like the entrance rite and the closing rite, has a tendency to collect. This clutter makes what is an ancillary rite appear more important than it is. When we give too much emphasis to the offertory, it shifts the focus of the Communion Office from what God has done for us to what we are doing for God.

They also argue that the singing of the Doxology the offertory brings the service to a premature climax. They point out that when the Doxology is sung immediately before the Eucharistic Prayer, it overshadows the Sanctus with the result that the singing of the Sanctus, a highpoint of the Eucharistic Prayer, is anticlimactic.

Galley voices the opinion that the singing of the Doxology might not be as problematic in the 1928 Communion Office as far as the overshadowing of the Sanctus is concerned as it is in the 1979 Communion Office. In the 1928 Communion Office a number of elements separate the offertory and the prayer of consecration. In the 1979 Communion Office the Eucharistic Prayer immediately follows the offertory.

It is worthy of note that in the primitive Church, the people’s offerings were presented in silence.

When I searched the internet for clues to the origin of the practice of singing the Doxology at the offertory I did not find much support for the practice except from a Roman Catholic blogger who did not like the Anglican practice of singing hymns and anthems at the offertory.

The rubric permitting the singing of the Doxology at the conclusion of the offertory may be another example of the 2003 Reformed Episcopal Church's unfortunate penchant for encouraging undesirable practices. The rubric was really unnecessary. It applies to a matter that has been largely determined by custom.

The earliest Prayer Books such as the 1559 Elizabethan Prayer Book and its Jacobean revision kept rubrics to a minimum and gave much greater room to custom. They did not try to regulate everything. Since the the twenty-first century mission field requires a large measure of flexibility, it would be wise to return to this earlier practice.

The offertory is a secondary rite in which it is highly desirable—particularly on the twenty-first century mission field—to apply the liturgical principle “less is more” and strive for the noble simplicity that characterizes Anglican worship at its best. The offertory is the appropriate place in the service for a hymn or anthem in response to the readings and the sermon or in preparation for the Liturgy of the Table. As a hush settles on the congregation at the conclusion of the hymn or anthem, the priest then receives the people’s offerings and reverently places them on the Holy Table. It is a time to honor the words of the prophet Habakkuk, “The Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him. What better way is there to proceed to the Liturgy of the Table than in stillness and silence? We do not need to fill every moment of the liturgy with noise.

Image: The Church of the Holy Trinity, Houston, Texas

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